THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
12:52 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: What do you guys have for me?
Q Joe, there have been a lot of stories over the weekend about how angry President Clinton is at Vice President Gore for things he's been saying about the President's conduct. Is their relationship severely strained? Or how badly --
MR. LOCKHART: I'd start by saying don't believe everything you read in the newspaper. I've talked to -- I read the stories that you're referring to. I had talked to the President several times in the wake of the Vice President's announcement speech. The President, as he told you at the press conference, thought it was a great speech, was very impressed with the vision he laid out, with the choices he laid out.
So I wouldn't put any level of strain on it. They enjoy a very strong relationship, a relationship that the President has counted on for the last seven years. And I think it's a relationship that has been beneficial to the President and will be beneficial to the Vice President as we move forward.
Q So the President is not angry at all? He's never expressed any --
MR. LOCKHART: I can tell you I talked to him half a dozen times while we were in Europe about the Gore announcement, the speech, the coverage, and he never expressed any anger to me.
Q Can I follow up one more?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure.
Q Is there anybody in the White House who's trying to put a lid on these kind of comments that are coming from unnamed staff, or is the White House content to have this going on?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have a view here that those here in the White House -- and I think if you read some of those stories very closely you'll find that they don't quote people from here in the White House. And when they do quote people in the White House, they have their name on it, including myself.
I think we're in the business of trying to move the country forward, not running anybody's campaign, and that's what we're going to focus on.
Q Do you think, Joe, given the news about the surplus today, that it is an opportunity for both Republicans and Democrats, to some extent, to get what they want in terms of tax cuts? Is the President --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the simplest way to look at this is there were some members of the leadership on Capitol Hill who declared Social Security reform dead for the year. The President doesn't believe that. He put forward a strong proposal. These new numbers allow him to adjust that framework, to really address some questions that leaders on the Hill had.
And I think now it's time for those on Capitol Hill to decide -- do they want to do what's best for the American public, extend Social Security, Medicare for the next generation? Or do they want to play politics. I think our view here is that this is a solid framework and we really strongly believe we can make progress.
Q But it seems as though there's enough money to do what you want to do with Social Security and Medicare and play politics over more tax cuts. I mean, a lot of that other money would seem to be earmarked for programs that you all could debate and compromise on.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we certainly will look forward to a debate. I mean, making a budget is about setting priorities. We believe that we've hit the right balance here on priorities, as far as providing tax relief, providing investments in important areas for our future and, most importantly, dealing with Social Security and Medicare first.
We look forward to having a debate, to engaging on these issues. What's unfortunate to date, is many people -- you know, prematurely declaring this debate over before it has really started.
Q But does the surplus make these tough issues any easier?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the numbers here, which again are a result of the productivity of the American public and some sound fiscal decisions that the President and the Vice President made over the last seven years allow -- provide an opportunity that -- an opportunity to move forward on real reform. And we think that the kind of reform in extending the solvency of Social Security, that Republicans and Democrats alike can embrace, and that should be seen as an opportunity.
Q Joe, does the President rule out the idea of running for the Senate from Arkansas?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's another story I read in the newspaper that I had to go and ask him about. He has no intention of running for the Senate, rules out the idea of running for the Senate. I think his quote to me was, "That story is crazy and I don't know where they got it from."
Q So, ever? Rules out completely or -- I mean, what does "rule out" mean? I mean, 2002 or period?
MR. LOCKHART: The way I heard it was he is not planning to run for the senate.
Q And no one has raised it with him? Did he address that issue? Were there friends that had --
MR. LOCKHART: He said that the story that he read was crazy and he didn't know where it came from.
Q Joe, we're reporting that Ken Starr has basically decided to write a finalizing report and is wrapping up his investigation, no more indictments and such. Does the White House have any reaction to that?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen that report. I mean, I think we've made our views pretty clear that our attention is focused on moving the country forward and Mr. Starr's attention is something that he'll have to decide about.
Q Did the President have any reaction to the Hubbell plea bargain?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I've only seen reports of that; we don't have any independent confirmation of that. I passed the reports along to some people in the traveling party, but I haven't gotten any reaction. I think he would probably wait for something more official before making any comments or reacting.
Q You have in the past had comments, though, about Ken Starr's continuing to spend taxpayers' money and continuing an investigation you felt was a dry hole a long time ago.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not taking the bait today.
Q What's the logistics of unveiling the Medicare plan tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Tomorrow afternoon some of the same people you saw in here today -- I'm not sure where, but some place here at the White House -- the President will go through the program. We'll have, again, a number of the same people you heard today available to you tomorrow in a variety of fora to explain the detailed plan to help extend the Medicare trust fund.
Q Joe, on the Hubbell thing, I understand it's still speculation at this point, but it's got to be a relief, hasn't it, that the First Lady wouldn't have to appear --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think it's best for me to make comments on something that we can independently confirm, rather than just on reports. I have no reason to doubt any of the reports, but I have not -- no one has indicated to me, from Counsel's Office, that this is something that they know is a fact.
Q Are you going to read out about the Mubarak meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: The National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, met with Egyptian President Mubarak this morning at Blair House, in preparation for the working visit on the Thursday with President Clinton. They had a good discussion, which focused mostly on the current state of the Middle East peace process.
Q Isn't it a little early for --
MR. LOCKHART: He's doing some other things. I think while he's here he's got a schedule over the next couple of days. But the working visit portion with the President is Thursday.
Q Maybe that could be a lesson to the President about the way to travel, get there three days ahead of time. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: What's your point, Terry?
Q We'll talk. (Laughter.)
END 1:00 P.M. EDT